Strategies to Improve Biodiversity Crisis
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Ireland, though famous for its greenery and beautiful scenery, has a culture of natural resource exploitation. Activities such as deforestation, agriculture and removal of peatlands/ bogs have harmed the country's natural resources. Ireland has an extensive history of deforestation, spanning hundreds of years. Around 1390, significant deforestation due to land clearing for agriculture took place and continued until there was just 12 percent forest cover by 1600 (O'Hanlon, 2012). By the end of the 1800's, forest cover increased due to grants and the decline in population due to the famine (O'Hanlon, 2012). In 2012, there was only 10 percent forest cover in Ireland and over half of that is the non-native Sitka spruce (O'Hanlon, 2012).
The demand for higher levels of productivity and an advance in farming methodologies/tools have led to an agricultural intensification in recent decades (Hutton & Giller, 2003). Around 70% of Ireland's total land area is used for agriculture (Hutton & Giller, 2003). Clearing of land for agriculture has led to mass habitat loss and a subsequent extinction of species such as Crex crex (the corncrake), who lost their grassland habitats(Hutton & Giller, 2003). Furthermore, studies such as Rushton et al. (1989) have illustrated that beetle and spider species decline in number and diversity when upland areas are agriculturally improved (Hutton & Giller, 2003).
Recently, the issue of invasive species has come to the forefront. Invasive species are a priority issue under the Convention on Biological Diversity and follow closely behind habitat destruction as one of the leading threats to global biodiversity (Caffrey et al., 2014; Caffrey et al., 2011). Invasive species can cost the Irish economy up to £261,517,445 (Kelly et al., 2013). An example of a problematic invasive species is the Asian clam, Corbicula fluminea, which was first found in the River Barrow in 2010 (Caffrey et al., 2014). It quickly colonised SACs containing protected species such as sea lampreys and Atlantic salmon (Caffrey et al., 2014).
Since 2002, Ireland has produced two National Biodiversity Plan, with the most recent being published in 2011. The plan lays out 102 actions under 7 objectives that are largely based on Convention of Biological Diversity. These 7 objectives include incorporating conservation issues into political decisions, better management of protected habitats and their species and promotion of "appreciation of biodiversity and ecosystem services" (DAHG, 2011). However, this plan has a lacks a legislative basis, with much of Ireland's conservation action coming because of the EU Habitats Directive. In January 2015, an interim review by the National Biodiversity Working Group (2015) of the plan found that only 24 of the 102 actions are currently implemented (Figure 2). A further 67 are in the process of being implemented and the remainder have not yet been adequately dealt with (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Qualitative assessment of progress on implementation of the Actions of The Biodiversity Plan 2011-2016 (NBWG, 2015).
Biodiversity provides us with essential ecosystem services such as provisions (e.g. fresh water, wood), environmental regulation (e.g. pollination, pest control, climate regulation), supporting services (e.g. soil formation) and cultural services (e.g. recreation, tourism) (Bullock et al., 2008). These services encompass every part of our lives and are critical to maintaining our standards of living and our basic well-being. Despite this, the public perception of conservation is often negative; it is perceived as a hindrance to the development of property, infrastructure, industry and economic progress (O'Connor, 2016). Citizen science is a wonderful way to get the Irish public interested in conservation (Donnelly et al., 2013). A total of 20 citizen science projects run in Ireland (Donnelly et al., 2013); most of which are led by BirdWatch Ireland (Donnelly et al., 2013).
Education of the next generation is key to conserving Ireland's biodiversity. The role of conservation in the Primary School Curriculum needs to be further emphasized. School children tend to express more concern towards exotic, flagship species over the biodiversity that lies just outside their door (Ballouard et al., 2011) and Ireland appears to be no exception. It is our younger generations that will dictate the future of our biodiversity and therefore it is essential that we promote a deep appreciation of nature from an early age.
Word count (excl. in-text citations, figure legends, references): 594
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